Money Moguls Target ATRs
By Class Struggle Education Workers/UFT
It’s hardly surprising that the teacher-bashing Post is going after ATRs, again. This has been one of their hobby horses ever since the 2005 contract let principals choose teaching staffs. It’s all part of Bloomberg and Klein’s business model, centered on giving management dictatorial powers and replacing veteran teachers who actually know something about education. The billionaire mayor and his obedient schools chancellor back up their demands with a stream of supposedly “objective” flimflam from wholly owned subsidiaries. Reports from the “New Teacher Project,” paid for by the DOE; arbitrary “report cards” devised by the DOE; and now another report, recycling the previous reports, this time from a group of “citizens.”
Who Is the CBC?
The fact that the CBC is calling for more teacher givebacks is no shocker. This “blue ribbon” panel which bills itself as a “watchdog” for capital is made up of bankers, real estate moguls and million-dollar lawyers: board members and partners from Merrill Lynch, J.P. Morgan Securities, J.P. Morgan Asset Management, Goldman Sachs, Wachovia Bank, the Federal Reserve Bank of NY, IBM, Verizon, Felix Rohatyn of the Rohatyn Group, Bloomberg LP, Vornado Realty Trust – you get the picture. Just your average “citizens” of the republic of big money. The chairman is the executive vice president of MetLife, formerly in charge of strategic planning and real estate operations. Like dumping the Stuyvesant Town apartment complex for a cool $5.4 billion, putting 25,000 middle-income residents at risk?
These are the same people who set off the bank-engineered fiscal crisis in the mid-1970s claiming that NYC was “living beyond its means,” resulting in the firing of tens of thousands of city workers and dangerous deterioration of the city’s infrastructure. Back then the CBC trustees were from Chemical Bank, Chase Manhattan Bank, Salomon Brothers, Morgan Guaranty Trust, Henry Helmsley of Helmsley Spear, David Tishman of Tishman Reality, Sam Lefrak of the Lefrak Organization. Different cast, same play. Now the bankers who raked in trillions from the government bailout when their financial shell games crashed, and who are now giving themselves tens of billions in bonuses, say the city “can’t afford” to pay for public education.
But just because it is wholly predictable that the labor-haters and Treasury looters are going after ATRs and demanding “pay for performance” doesn’t mean we should let down our guard. Their purpose has nothing to do with a budget deficit or economic crisis. They want to crack teacher tenure in order to bust the union. They figure that if they can give management the right to arbitrarily decide who gets a raise, and if they can kick out troublesome teachers by putting them in holding pens on trumped up charges or “excessing” them by shutting down their schools, then soon they will have a workforce scared stiff of getting fired to do their bidding.
Arne Duncan’s Wrecking Job on the Chicago Schools
Since Bloomberg, Klein & Co. took over, they have announced the closing of 100 city schools. But they will really go to town if they can get rid of the no layoffs clause and fire ATRs, whether after six months or a year. They want to replicate what President Obama’s education chief Arne Duncan did as “CEO” of the Chicago schools. Saying “I'm a portfolio manager of 600 schools and I'm trying to improve the portfolio,” this corporate education “reformer” has managed to get rid of 6,000 union teachers, most of them African-American (and most of them women). In April 2007, he fired 775 teachers on one day. Under his Renaissance 2010 program, Duncan carried out a racist purge, closing schools and firing the entire staff as part of a drive to gentrify poor black neighborhoods. This is the model of school “reform” that Obama is pushing.
Last year, Weingarten swore that the DOE would only ax ATRs “over my dead body.” When we raised the issue at the September D.A., Mulgrew repeated the mantra that the DOE created the problem and they need to solve it. New York City teachers must make it crystal clear to the DOE that any tampering with the no layoffs clause in the contract, any provision allowing the firing of ATRs, anything infringing on the rights of teachers thrown into the DOE’s Gitmo is absolutely unacceptable. The scandal of more than 1,500 teachers not teaching can be solved in a single day by simply instructing the principals to place them, period. And the “rubber rooms” should be shut down: teachers, like anyone else, must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. (In cases where there may be real issues, they can be given other assignments.) And we demand the rehiring of the 500 school aides who were just dismissed to save a paltry $10 million so that Goldman Sachs can shell out $23 billion to its top execs.
The UFT’s “Smart” Politics: Dumb and Dumber
What We Need Is a Class-Struggle Workers Party
This was billed as “smart” politics. It was the same stance of pro-Bloomberg neutrality the UFT bureaucracy adopted in 2005, for which they credit themselves with getting a 14 percent raise – in exchange for huge concessions including giving up seniority transfer rights and agreeing to principals’ selection of staff, thereby giving rise to the present ATR crisis. This time around, the union leadership fell for the sucker bait churned out by Bloomberg’s PR machine. After months of claims that Bloomberg had a “double-digit” lead in the polls, he barely squeaked by with a 5 point margin. As the Times (5 November) put it: “He created an aura of gilded invincibility, which the media retailed. For labor unions like 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East and the United Federation of Teachers, whose leaders are acutely sensitive to power, it seemed wise to stay silent.”
So now we get “four more years” of Joel Klein’s monomaniacal offensive against teachers, arbitrarily closing schools and undermining kids’ education with endless testing ... in exchange for what? It turns out that the UFT’s vaunted political operation is not so smart – much less wise – even in its own terms of supporting whatever bourgeois politician it figures has the most “clout.” When supporters of Democratic candidate Bill Thompson tried to get an endorsement at the last Delegate Assembly, Mulgrew brought up the UFT’s legislative and political action director whose main argument was, why should we back “a loser”? But then the UFT backed Mark Green, Hillary Clinton and Elliot Spitzer, to name a few of the losers, while the “winners” it supported included Republican governor Pataki (it even gave him a John Dewey award!).
Class Struggle Education Workers opposes Bloomberg and Thompson and all capitalist parties and candidates, including the Greens (who act as a pressure group on the Democrats) and the “Working Families Party,” which is just another ballot line so that people can vote for the Democratic candidate while holding their noses, or for the odd “independent” who was nixed by the Democratic machine. The Independent Community of Educators (ICE), an opposition grouping in the UFT, issued an October 22 statement calling to “vote against Bloomberg.” Politically, what this means is backhanded support for Thompson, even though they admitted the Democrat “supports much of the underlying corporate agenda for education.” Not only that, Thompson came out against a 4 percent raise for teachers. Some “alternative” to Bloomberg/Klein!
The fact is, you can’t defend teachers or public education – particularly for poor and working people and the oppressed black, Latino, Asian and immigrant population – without opposing the Democrats. The fact is, corporate “reformers” bent on gutting of U.S. public schools are led not by right-wing reactionaries, but by the Democratic Party of Barack Obama, who was supported, openly or indirectly, by virtually every teachers union and almost every union opposition in the country. Obama is no representative of impoverished racial minorities, he is a product of elite private schools who was launched by big bucks from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms. He backed the bank bailout, he supported imperialist war in Afghanistan and Iraq. And Obama’s education program was virtually identical with Republican John McCain’s: semi-privatizing public education with charter schools; introducing “merit” pay; eliminating seniority protection and teacher tenure (which is not a “job for life” but simple protection against arbitrary firing).
We said so at the time (see “No to Teacher-Basher McCain and Education-for-War Obama,” The Internationalist supplement, November 2008), when most of the left was sidling up to Obama or biting their tongues. When the Grassroots Education Movement held a rally last May, they said they wouldn’t have our spokeswoman explicitly because she would attack the popular president. Now, when the Democratic president is bombing Afghan and Pakistani villagers, keeping the Guantánamo concentration camp open, cutting deals with the drug and health insurance companies, and pushing charter schools with a vengeance – now we are hearing a few timid criticisms from the left. Yet the UFT, AFT and NEA keep on backing Obama/Duncan even as the administration uses the billion-dollar bribe of “stimulus” money and “Race to the Top” slush funds to ram through union-bashing measures.
Enough already. ¡Basta ya! We badly need a class-struggle workers party, one that defends public education against the capitalist education “reformers” while fighting for a workers government to carry out a revolution in education and the whole of society. So let’s get started.
From the right-wing zealots of the New York Post and Wall Street Journal editorial page to the Business Roundtable and the liberal Democrats who control the White House and both houses of Congress in Washington, there is a bipartisan capitalist consensus on education “reform.” They say teachers should be paid according to students’ grades, seniority and tenure should be abolished, large schools should be broken up into small schools, “failing schools” should be shut down and replaced by charters, and K-8 education should focus on reading and math, to be measured by continuous high stakes standardized tests. The ed reformers talk about “metrics” the way the Pentagon talks about the body count in Iraq. They want America’s schools to look like New Orleans after Katrina, where they gutted the public school system, dismissed the teachers, and handed the children over to charter operators profiting from the public till.
Interestingly, a series of studies have shown that every one of these “reforms” is a bust, even by their own measure.
Small schools: Last November 11, Bill Gates reported to his foundation, “In the first four years of our work with new, small schools, most of the schools had achievement scores below district averages on reading and math assessments.” As far back as 2005, “a Gates-funded study by the American Institutes for Research showed that students in traditional, comprehensive high schools were learning more mathematics than those in the Gates' small schools” (this according to the magazine that calls itself the “capitalist tool,” Forbes, 28 November 2008).
Closing schools: Arne Duncan closed 44 schools during his tenure as chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools. A study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research released last month, When Schools Close, reported that: “Most students who transferred out of closing schools re-enrolled in schools that were academically weak.” Overall it found “few effects, either positive or negative, of school closings on the achievement of displaced students,” but showed that both reading and math scores fell for students in schools slated for closing. Meanwhile, an article on “The Turnaround Fallacy” in Education Next (Winter 2009), a journal published by Harvard University, reviewing studies on school reorganizations, reported “overall, school turnaround efforts have consistently fallen far short of hopes and expectations.”
Charter Schools: This past July, the Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) published a massive study (Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States), covering test scores of “70 percent of the students in charter schools in the United States,” which reported: “Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.” Only 17 percent, less than one in five, provided superior education. Comparing students of similar backgrounds, the CREDO study stated: “For Blacks and Hispanics, their learning gains are significantly worse than that of their traditional school twins.”
In short, they are all frauds. But then, corporate education “reform” was never about better schools. It was about union-busting, privatizing, turning schools into profit platforms, cutting back government spending on education for the masses, and reshaping education to provide low-level vocational training for most while reserving quality education for a bourgeois and upper middle class elite.